At the Washington Post, many of the usual suspects are weighing in on the events in Tucson, and much of it is exactly what you’d expect. It’s striking the extent to which some on the religious left are simply parroting the line from the mainstream media that incendiary political rhetoric is to blame for creating an “environment” in which Jared Loughner would pull the trigger. Given the lack of evidence for that, those who are making that claim simply look silly, and to the extent that they point the finger at political conservatives while overlooking the equally vitriolic language of the left, they reveal a problematic partisanship as well.
Others decide that a crisis should not be allowed to go to waste, and push for a public policy response, namely stronger gun control. For Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics, that means pushing gun control by any illogic necessary:
Adjunct philosophy professor Kent Slinker, one of Jared Lee Loughner’s teachers at Pima Community College, said Loughner was someone “whose brains were scrambled.”
Slinker observed that the Tucson shooter had thoughts “unrelated to anything in our world.”
Does our society have thoughts that are “unrelated” to reality? Do we have “scrambled” moral thinking?
When anti-gun control folk argue that “guns don’t kill people–people kill people,” they are disclosing scrambled moral thinking.
Really? Given that guns are inanimate objects incapable of doing anything on their own without human agency, how is this “scrambled”? Parham doesn’t tell us, but instead gives more examples of “scrambled thinking”:
Other examples of scrambled thinking include (1) “Cigarettes don’t kill people–people kill people.” (2) “Alcohol doesn’t kill people–people kill people.” (3) “Venomous talk doesn’t kill people–people kill people.”
For an ethicist, Parham seems strangely prone to assume that everyone else sees things the way he does, rather than actually offering an argument.
Let’s look at his examples. 1) Cigarettes can’t harm anyone until a human being lights up. There’s really no way to use them responsibly or without harming yourself or others, but the objects themselves still have no impact on oneself or others until someone decides to use them. 2) Millions of people every day use alcohol in responsible ways that hurt no one. Yes, people can become addicted to it, and yes, when abused can cause people to do things that may irreparably harm others. But for most people, alcohol is not a problem. 3) “Venomous talk” cannot kill anyone without a human context, and in the vast majority of instances results may result in hurt feelings or broken relationships, but not physical violence, simply because most people are capable of restraining their responses to such talk.
That’s not to say that the first and third of these items are good, or even that spoken venom isn’t wrong in itself, but that tying these to murder is simply absurd. Scrambled thinking, indeed.
If we act as our brother’s keeper, we care that guns, cigarettes, alcohol and incendiary political talk can harm. People of goodwill then take actions to control access to guns, to reduce smoking, to stop drunken drivers and to discourage vitriol.
Notice the weasel? We’re supposed to take action against guns, cigarettes, and “vitriol,” but rather than suggesting action against alcohol, Parham shifts the focus to drunk drivers. Maybe he sees that if you are going to make the argument that alcohol kills people, then you also have to say that cars kill people, and perhaps access to them needs to be restricted as well.
In fact, you can take this line of supposedly unscrambled thinking and use it for a wide variety of purposes. For instance, homosexual anal sex is a primary means for the transmission of AIDS, which obviously kills people, so homosexual anal sex should be prohibited, or at least rigidly controlled to prevent people passing the infection along. Obesity leads to premature death, so the government should strictly ration the amount and types of food each person may consume. Books can lead to people getting violent ideas–I mean, Loughner read both The Communist Manifesto and Mein Kampf!–so obviously access to books needs to be restricted. And since it is the government that through its laws enables us to act as our brother’s keeper, clearly it is the government that should be doing all this regulating.
There are a lot of people trying to take advantage of the tragedy in Arizona. Would that more folks would simply maintain a respectful silence.